Jean-Jacques Henner

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Jean-Jacques Henner
Head of a Woman
Pencil on wove paper, the edges gilded.
9 1/4 x 6 inches (235 x 152 mm)
Gift of John M. Thayer.

A painter from a humble background in Alsace, Henner won the Prix de Rome at the Ecole des beaux-arts in Paris in 1858 and spent the next five years in Rome. There he discovered Renaissance sfumato, a technique of softly modeling flesh, and the dramatic chiaroscuro of the Italian baroque. Returning to Paris, Henner exhibited regularly at the annual Salon, demonstrating a penchant for portraiture. After the upheaval of the Franco-Prussian war, which included the annexation of his hometown by Germany, his work took a more serious tenor. Around 1870 he depicted a woman with streaming red hair in the guise of Mary Magdalen, and this became a defining image for the artist, who produced numerous canvases featuring similar women, seen frontally with a direct gaze or in profile gazing into the distance.
This late drawing reveals a naturalistic approach to his sitter. A woman in a high-necked blouse, her hair parted in the middle and tied back, is seen in three-quarters view. Her face is modeled with stumped and rubbed passages of graphite, lending her the same corporeal quality found in the artist's paintings. She is similar to several women who sat for the artist, but not enough to identify her with certainty. A lost portrait from 1900 depicts a standing woman, her hair parted and tied back, wearing a blouse with ruffled sleeves and a high neck (Lannoy 2008, C.1324). The painting is known only through a photograph that identifies the sitter as Marie-Anne Zoegger, a pupil of the artist later known as Camax-Zoegger. Isabelle de Lannoy notes of Zoegger, "She is named twice in the artist's diary in 1900...but we do not know if it is for this unfinished portrait she might have overpainted."
Lannoy, Isabelle De., and Henner, Jean-Jacques. "Catalogue Raisonné J.J. Henner / Isabelle De Lannoy." S.l.: S.n., 2008.


Signed and dated "J.J. Henner / 1901".
Watermark: Baskerville.

Serge Michel and Paul Zappert, New York; sale, Christie's, 26 February 1986, lot 169; John M. Thayer (1944-2004), Wilmington, DE.
Associated names: 

Thayer, John M. (John MacLane), 1944-2004, former owner.


Shepherd Gallery, "Ingres & Delacroix through Degas & Puvis de Chavannes: the Figure in French Art, 1800-1870," catalogue by Martin L. H. Reymert et al., 1975.

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